Archive for April, 2012

Jokes in Urban Planning

Posted: 29/04/2012 in Uncategorized

Sunday – land of the Long Slow Run.

I’ve been unsuccessfully aiming to up my longer run for a few weeks, but life has had a habit of getting in the way. However, today was looking promising, and I decided a nice 8-mile jaunt would be a good plan. I know that the pub by the harbour at Seaton Sluice is a round seven mile return, so only half a mile or so more and I’m there. But how much further is half a mile?

I set off into the howling gale of the North East coast feeling pretty upbeat, I had a plan, I had some shoes, and I had clothing that would do the job – back in tights tray and a gilet for good measure against any rain that might show up. It’s a bit of a confused wind we get here, blowing all directions at once and never one way for more than a moment. It wasn’t phasing me today, which I took as a pretty good sign. Loading up on carbs with a big plate of pasta yesterday lunchtime seems to have been a good move, and also didn’t leave me feeling heavy this morning, having had time to work its way through the ol’ pipework.

Along the coast, past the Mini Golf and around the caravan park, all good and I’m feeling pretty chipper. Trying to hold back to a decent pace, imagining that this is part of my training for the Hadrian’s Wall half marathon at the end of June. Somewhere around the 9:40 mark, I reckon, and well within my race aim of keeping to a ten minute mile.

Up to Seaton Sluice now, and the slight incline up the road is just fine. Through the scenic side of Seaton Sluice, with a view out to sea and along to the pub at the far end. As I approach the pub, there’s a row of houses built right on the cliff edge. I’ve been past them a number of times and only just now noticed the sign on the end of the street, “West Terrace”. Given that we’re right on the edge of the eastern coast of the country, it strikes me that some Town Planners decided to have a little joke here – you couldn’t have an East Terrace unless you invested in some pretty hefty waders, and maybe a small boat.

Past the pub and along the start of the dunes that lead to Blyth – watching the mile counter creep up – finally reach four miles just before the far end of the houses in Seaton Sluice and cut back up to the road for the return. Back along to the pub  and along the front. As I was coming along, I noticed a cliff-top path. Now, I’m a sucker for a trail, so I cut onto it on the way back, hoping it would bring me out at the top end of the headland past the Lighthouse. Right enough, after a proper buffeting, exposed to 360 degree winds I wend my way out into the carpark and head onto the trail along to the Links. Along the path, and I neck a gel – I’ve discovered that the High 5 ones are palatable and I’ve trained my guts not to rebel at the sight of them, They certainly give a bit of a lift to the legs, and whether that’s physiological or mental, it does the trick.

Onto the Links now, and someone else heading back from the Lighthouse starts to tail me – it’s a fun feeling, like you’re running with some competition, and I have to hold back not to try and dash away (not that hard given that I’m over six miles now). Along the cliff tops, past the waterlogged Mini Golf, and to the stream that cuts down to the beach. Rush down the stairs, up the other side and onto the promenade along the beach. Still being followed and pretty much matched for pace.

Part way along the Promenade, I’ve got into the habit of plodding up a big slope onto the top again – I figured it would be good training for trails, it’s way steep and it feels good to top out and push on after you’ve done it. Hmm, still being followed, still being matched. Along past the Spanish City and the Promenade to the end of the run – nothing very eventful, but with 8 miles under my belt I stop for a drink (and breathe) and the running-stalker goes past me with a jaunty wave.

A little bit of camaraderie goes a long way.

All in all, a grand run, and a new distance for me. Next week I’m planning on 9 miles, with the aim of building up each week until the half marathon.

Stats:

  • Distance: 8.07 miles
  • Time: 1:15.29
  • Average pace: 9’22”

Nice.

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The title is far more exciting that the run – tired this morning, it was raining and I’ve got a heck of a day at work, so a quick run to the Toy Museum and back. Nuff said, hopefully a longer run at the weekend…

Stats:

  • Time: 22’42.80
  • Distance: 2.69 miles
  • Average pace: 8’34” per mile

Free Running

Posted: 24/04/2012 in Uncategorized

No GPS, no pace, no aim, no objective. Run as fast or slow as you want, take the terrain at the pace you fancy.

Today was a bit of an experiment, I decided to run the Lighthouse circuit, and obviously I had my GPS watch on, but decided I wouldn’t look at it. Normally this tells me my pace, overall time and distance, so I can hit whatever target I’m looking for, whether a slow run, a quicker pace or whatever.

I’m calling this a “Free Run”, and I think it’ll be a good test of my overall level of fitness. I started off and did my circuit, paying attention to how it felt, speeding up when I felt like it and plodding along when it felt appropriate. I ignored the insistent calls from my brain to check pace and got into my running vibe. I felt like a proper athlete in the sense that it felt good, very good.

When I got back I took a look and was pleasantly surprised – I’d run a fair bit faster than I would normally pace myself, and while I felt a bit worn out, it was in a good way, rather than totally knackered.

I reckon I’ll do one of these every week or two and see how my pace differs over time.

Stats:

  • Time: 30’29.94
  • Distance: 3.59 miles
  • Average pace: 8’34”

See what I mean – an average 8’34” is what I’d run if I was looking to tank out a fast pace, so the fact that I’d managed that on a gentle enjoyable run was a bit of a shock.

Rock’n’roll.

The nicest thing…

Posted: 22/04/2012 in Uncategorized

I missed a run…

In itself, not the worst of things, no one was hurt, no animals were involved, but I don’t like to miss a run.

Today was the next run after missed run, so I felt I ought to go a bit longer, in order to make up for Missing Run. The weekend is normally when I run a bit further anyway, so no biggie, but how far? A normal weekday run is about 3-4 miles, which is the lighthouse and back.

Mind, I was feeling tired today – no idea why, but certainly not as wildly energetic (cough) as usual. Up to the lighthouse then, and see how I feel.

It was lovely out, a bit sunny, a bit cloudy, just the right amount of breeze, perfect running weather. I ran up to the lighthouse, but didn’t feel like I had that clarity that I usually get after a good long run. A bit further then? Up to the near side of Seaton Sluice and then back around the headland? Would give me about a 5 mile run, so yeah, why not?

Up the slight incline around the back of the caravan park, and I’m feeling a little clearer in my head – that’s good, and then I get to thinking about the upcoming Blaydon Race – a 10k so not the end of the world, but maybe I should aim for 6.2 miles this morning? From experience, I know that means going about half way through Seaton Sluice and back out again. Well, I’ve gone this far, so why not?

Run through Seaton Sluice, up the cut and back up the hill to the turn down to the headland. I love the headland, because it’s a bit of uneven trail – not quite like getting onto a proper trail path, but it reminds me of the reason why I like getting off the road – variety.

Back onto the top of the Links now, and the rain over the last few days has left the mini golf course totally waterlogged, standing water everywhere, and no way to avoid it, so I splash through, getting wet feet, which is oddly pleasant.

The steps down to the promenade now, along there and up the hill by the skate park onto the top. A quick jaunt along the path and that’s me. All in all a lovely run, though my legs feel like lead.

Stats:

  • Distance: 6.24 miles
  • Time: 57’05”
  • Av. Pace: 9’13” / mile

The nicest thing? I passed an older gent running along the headland – he shouted out a jaunty “morning” – I smiled and shouted “good morning” back. As we passed each other, smiling and exchanging a greeting it was like we were sharing a secret that running right there, right then was the best place to be at that moment. Nice.

It’s been a funny old week – things have been more complicated than usual in every sphere of life. Thankfully, a lot of things have been cleared up over the last couple of days.

Because of events, I’ve ot had time to blog, though I have been running, and I made it out on Wednesday morning for bit of a jaunt up the coast. I was intending to get out on Friday morning, but I had an appointment on Thursday evening that ran longer than expected, and by the time I made it home my mind was all over the place. I figured a run would be the ideal way to give my brain a brake, so I headed up to Seaton Sluice and back in a leisurely plod. It worked too, I felt a lot better by the time I got home, and sorted some other stuff when I got back.

Today was looking nice, though the weather forecast said 4 degrees, feels like -2 degrees. Deffo the need for a long sleeve top then. However, when I got out it looked great, not too cold and the sun was nice and warming, leaving me wondering if I should have left the longsleeve at home.

For a chance, I headed down to Tynemouth, and had the idea of cutting through the town, down the bank to the Fish Quay and back up the Hills of Doom. Running felt effortless (ish) this morning, which I think is a side effect of having less mental weight to carry. Along the sea front, past Cullercoats and the Toy Museum and on to Tynemouth. All going very nicely thank you.

Out the other side of Tynemouth, and down the steep hill to the Fish Quay, which is just up from the entrance to the River Tyne. I had to dodge into the road a few times to pass pedestrians who were filling the pavement, but the road wasn’t busy, so that was fine. Onto the Fish Quay and along the promenade that runs down to the mouth of the river. A bit of swerving around to avoid people, and I’m starting to wonder if I’ve turned invisible – there are so many people moving to block my path, and folk coming towards me with dogs, filling the pavement. Not to worry, as I’m at the hills now, slow ponder up the first, and my thighs are feeling cranky at the top, but on I go, to the second hill up past the priory. Again, I’m ending in the road to get past people – what is the deal?

Reach the top and realise I only have to pootle along the sea front again – no more hills and I’ll be done. However, the road-block-do-walkers are in force here, and I end up having to say “excuse me” a number of times to avoid ploughing into people who won’t budge from filling the path and stay out of the far busier road. Now I’m not normally bothered by this, but it seemed to be a conspiracy this morning. Back along past the Toy Museum and the Boating Lake, and I’m overtaken by someone younger, thinner and fitter than me – fair enough, hopefully I’ll be like a twig some day, though I don’t think I’ve got that classic runner’s build to be honest.

Back to Cullercoats, and the wind picks up and the rain starts. Hang on, it’s not rain, it’s hail. Ouch. There’s nothing like God bouncing tiny ice bullets off your head to pick up your pace – I put on a spurt and got to the end.

Not a bad week, and I promise to try and be more entertaining in the weeks to come…

Stats: (Wed/Thu/Sun)

Time: 50:18 / 55.04 / 56.54
Distance: 5.20 / 5.61 / 6.06 miles
Av. Pace: 9:40 / 9.49 /9.23 mile
Climb: 105 / 135  / 180 ft

Job’s a good’un.

After yesterday’s North Tyneside 10k I should have been resting up today, but as it’s the last day of my holiday, and because I wanted to try out the Breatho Trail shoes, I headed off for a quick jaunt at my local Country Park.

First of all, the shoes:

Now, I’m a sucker for a nice looking shoe, and these look ace – I especially liked this colour, as they look like bumble bees on your feet. They were a smaller size than expected – I usually take a UK 11 to 11.5 depending on what I’m wearing, but got away with the equivalent of a UK 9.5 – that’s not a problem, and I get the impression from looking at the Vivobarefoot site that they’re probably open to ordering a couple of pairs and returning one. Saying which, if you can get to a shop that sells them, I’d definatley recommend trying the on to get the right size.

The uppers are a close-woven mesh, with a sewn in tongue that’s made of a sligthly heavier material the feel like it’s probably good at wicking away any moisture. The heel box is a little sturdier than the upper, and the laces pass through the yellow tapes you can see in the picture. The whole is bonded to the sole, a thin and flexible ruuber withbuilt in grips. The sole is 2.5mm with 4.5mm lugs according to Vivobarefoot’s website. There’s a liner inside the shoe, though the advice on the box encourages you to remove it as soon as you feel comfortable. I can see the point of that, why have highly flexible and responsive shoes then stick a couple of militmetres of cushion in there?

I’m used to running trails in Mizuno Wave Harriers, which are pretty flexible shoes. However the Breathos, due to their barefoot heritage take it to a whole different level. If you don’t know much about barefoot running (and I only know a tiny bit), then the basic idea is that by removing all the cushioning, support and gubbins that have beomce part of the running shoe, we are more able to feel the sensation of running and this reduces our likelihood to run in a manner that will damage our bodies and therefore reduce injuries. I’m not an evangelist for the barefoot movement (at the moment), but I do love to be able to feel what I’m running on. My current road shoes feel a bit pillowy now, and the thought I could run in a better way that would allow my body to find its own form is pretty attractive. One of the main tenets of barefoot running (whether actual barefoot or in barefoot shoes) is that you should land with your forefoot, rather than your heel, allowing the bones in your foot to absorb the impact naturally, rather than need a load of gel/foam to cushion you.

The toe box feels nice and roomy to give your toes the space to move around and spread. The heel and ankle feel like they’re in a glove, and the thin and flexible sole means you get fantastic feedback  when you’re moving.  You can also pretend you’re a ninja, which is pretty cool. 🙂

I’m not sure whether the trail shoes are more flexible that the road shoes, as I haven’t tried a pair of those, but the website sounds like the sole of the trail shoes (ignoring the treads) is thinner, so in theory these should give more feedback.

With all this in mind, I headed off to the Country Park, with its well-trodden tracks and the only decent hill in the area. Walking up the tarmac road was a bit of a peculiar sensation – not unpleasant, just a lot more sensation than I’m used to. I was concerned that the treads would stick into my feet on very hard surfaces, but that didn’t happen, so that was a relief. I jogged along the side of the road, and soon reached the trail. Another part of the barefoot running thing is lots and lots of small steps, rather than gigantic strides, so I was trying to run with wee steps, touching down with the ball of my foot – I think I pretty much run that way to start with, so it seemed to work.

On the one time I’ve tried running actually barefoot, on the sand, I properly overdid it and my calves were staggeringly painful for days – so I tried to take it easy, listen to my muscles and so on. I was aware of a little bit of tightness in my left calf, but it didn’t seem to get worse. I know my joints aren’t as flexible as they should be – I can’t (for example) get down into a crouch with both soles of my feet touching the ground. I think part of the issue with starting to run barefoot (or ‘transition’ to barefoot as it’s known) is your feet getting used to the extra little bit of drop of your heel that is normally blocked by the wedge of cushioning at the back of a shoe.

One of the things that amazed me as I ran along was just how tactile the shoes felt – I could barely feel them on my feet, but I could tell when I was running over slightly stony track rather than smooth, or when bits of the path must have been wetter and were a little softer. I started running over different bits of terrain to get a feel for it – there’s definitely something grand about being able to get that much sensation from your feet.

On a little further, and up the hill – I usually approach hills with the same rhythm but smaller steps – given that I was already taking pretty small steps that was a bit difficult to do, but I think I pretty much got there – the run up the hill was blissfully easy – now some of that may be down to my increasing fitness, but I didn’t feel any of the usual warmth in my legs from pushing up the incline. Seems like small steps, fast rhythm does pay off pretty well. Again I was struck by the sensation of the ground – where the grass was a bit muddier I could feel the give in the ground, where it was drier I could feel the harder surface.

I reached the top, a little surprised at how well it had gone, and crossed to the other side for the descent. Now I’ve been trying desents with longer strides, and let gravity get on with it. In an attempt to see how this small step thing worked, I tried increasing the rhythm and trying to keep the step size roughly the same – it felt like my legs could whizz off at any moment, but it certainly worked – I clocked up a very respectable pace, and had an ace time through the mud at the bottom – the squishy sensation was lovely.

Next a stretch of sharp gravel path, and I had wondered what the shoes would make of that – is there such a thing as too much sensation? Nope, turns out not – I could feel the individual pieces of gravel underfoot, and feel them moving as I ran over them, but it was another enjoyable feeling, not at all unpleasant.

Up through the woods, past the horses and that’s me done, a 4km run – calves feel like they’ve had a bit of a work out, but nothing too bad – won’t know until the morning.

I checked the shoes afterwards, they looked fine, not a scratch or a scuff. I guess that if you’re into making very flexible shoes then you must have an idea how to stick them together so the flexing doesn’t make the pieces come apart. As a running shoe, they’re one of the most comfortable things I’ve worn – due to the fit and ride, rather than masses of cushioning. I think I’m going to continue trying to get out in the every week or two in the hope that it builds up my barefoot stamina. What I’d really love would be some VVBF road shoes as my weekday pre-work road runs are shorter and therefore better for the working-up-the-distance transition process. Saying which, there are some nice work shoes too, but I suspect I’d need to make a pilgrimage to London to get a pair of those – I spend most of my day in work clothes, so it would make sense to continue the transition while in the office.

I asked a couple of questions of VVBF customer services via the website and got non-nonsense, well explained answers each time. The site and the company seem to have quite a community feel to them.

I’ll update this review once I’ve used the Vivobarefoot Breatho Trail for a while longer, and once I’ve been out on some more full-on trails. 🙂

OK, so I think I’ve calmed down enough to write this now.

Today was the North Tyneside 10k race, my first ‘proper’ race and so (for one thing) I was guaranteed a Personal Best so long as I actually finished.

The race started at 10am, but I was up at 6am, too full of butterflies to lie in. I paced the kitchen drinking coffee and juicing whatever fruit and vegetables came to hand (lime, apple, tomato and carrot as it turned out, and not a bad combination either), the re-packed my bag and checked I had top, shorts, shoes, etc. and all the other obsessive checking things that my brain could think of (checked the Metro was running today – I checked last night, but you never know, they might have cancelled it on a whim at midnight. Turned out that was not the case).

Come 8:30, I was all ready and packed and off to the Metro station to wait for the train. There were a few other runners on the Metro so I gave them a jaunty nod of “I know what you’re up to this morning” and sat down. Ten minutes later and we’re at North Shields Metro station.

Now, I’m not a veteran at these things, as you’ll have picked up from the second paragraph, so I have no idea how one is supposed to behave – I walked down to the Parks sports centre where the race was kicking off, and contemplated my choice of a vest in wet, cold, drizzly conditions. Just getting inside the lobby of the centre, packed with runners, was a bit of a relief – should I change and put my longsleeve on? Nah, that’s not the Geordie way, however I did resist the urge to take the vest off, given it wasn’t snowing, which might have been the proper Geordie way.

A bit of hanging around, a pre-race wee and it’s all good, I head outside to find out the drizzle has stopped, so big tick for vest so far.

There’s a long bit of path to the start line, so I wander along, bumping into Jon from work. In a crowd of thousands a single friendly face is a marvellous thing. He’s much fitter, lighter and faster than me, so we chat while the race is prepared, knowing that he’ll be off like a hare once the whistle goes. My GPS won’t get a signal – that’s not going to be good, but like an expert IT technician, I turn the GPS off, on again and then give it a shake. Normal service is resumed.

Only it’s not a whistle to start the race, it’s the Elected Mayor, counting us down to the start. There can’t be that many races started by an Elected Mayor, so that has to count for something, and she does a flawless job.

The race is off!

With a little way to go until I reach the Start marker, I start the GPS anyway, so it’ll record how far I go and how long it takes, as that’s the idea, surely? The first bit is along the streets of North Shields, and the sight of a few thousand people jogging along must be pretty odd – it certainly looks that way to me from somewhere in the crowd. A bit of jostling as some faster chap pushes past, and we’re at the top of Borough Street, a steep hill down to the riverside.

I ran this bit of the route yesterday to try it on for size, so it’s not new ground to me – the downhill is pretty pleasant in a “let gravity do the work” kind of way, and we’re down the riverside road, running towards the Fish Quay. Possibly the most surreal moment of the day is two runners who come past us in the opposite direction, they probably thought they had the world to themselves until two thousand people rounded the corner coming towards them – that they didn’t run away says something for their moral fibre.

Along the Fish Quay, and there’s still a lot of bunching, and I’m doing some silly kind of pace, so I purposely slow myself down a little. Don’t want to conk on the first couple of kilometres, and there’s still the hills to come. Mentioning which, at the end of the Fish Quay we get a good sight down the river and can see the harbour walls and the innocent little cut up the hill at the end of the land a good way off. The road along the promenade is narrow, and there are spectators on there and some benches, so it becomes a bit of a chaotic positioning affair – one person stops abruptly with an undone shoelace, one person nearly takes out the lady next to him swerving to avoid a chair he hadn’t noticed – I run to the left side and don’t overtake – it seems the safest way. Shortly, we reach the end of the promenade and it’s time for the hills. Now I’ve practised these, and for me it’s little steps that get me through, running all the way – same rhythm, but teeny steps. A lot of the runners pound off up the hill, some never to be seen again, but a number of them to be seen quite quickly as they walk up the rest of the hill. First one out the way, and the little drop to the next one – stretch my legs a bit.

Second hill, the big one, but you can see all the way up it. Small steps, lots of walkers now, and I’m overtaking a few folk, not that I’m too bothered about that – I wanted to encourage some of them, but wasn’t sure if that’s the done thing or whether I’d get a smack in the chops for it, so I don’t. Top of the hill and that’s about heavenly – a lot of the group I’m with seem to be slowing, recovering I guess, whereas I’m off with a spurt, happy to be able to lengthen my stride. More pace-watching and holding back, as it looks like I went off a little too fast from the top of the hill.

It strikes me that this is my run, my route, the route I run 90% of the time, and I know it quite well now. I’ve got used to where the slight inclines and slight dips are, where the bollards are and where the wind can catch you. With that in mind, I mentally try to man up and show the world what I’m made of. Past the Toy Museum and the water station, and through the obstacle course of discarded bottles. Seriously – people could have put them in the large brown bins provided? I don’t know whether a lot of people suffered after having a drink, I know I can’t drink much straight water without getting a stitch, but all of a sudden I’m overtaking people. Not many, and not quickly, but I’m noticing that I’m in a group where I’m outpacing quite a few. Check watch, and no, I’m not overdoing it. Into Cullercoats now, and I was expecting Jacqueline to be along at the cafe, so it surprises me (in a nice way) that she’s not as far down the road – I spot her with the camera and smile for my picture. It’s not hard, I’ve been smiling for quite a while now, as it turns out I’m quite enjoying myself.

There I am, in me vest and shorts, number obscured and smiling like a fool. Maybe that’s my running face, who knows. I asked afterwards, whether I “looked like a runner”, and was told that I “looked like someone running”. I think that’s in the middle between “non-runner” and “professional athlete”, or so I’m telling myself. Good bit of camera work here, by the way, though I have cropped out the lady further to camera right, who (while I’m sure she’s a lovely, fabulous and talented person and runner) had the most distracting expression I’ve ever seen.

Through Cullercoats and along towards the bottom of the road I usually start and end my runs on – reaching that means I’ve gone “a long way” and have maybe 3km to go or thereabouts. It’s an interesting sign at a 10km race that they put up mile markers. I’m not saying that’s not useful, but to my mind a km marker would give you a simpler percentage-based position of how-much-done-how-much-to-go than the imperial to metric in-head calculation hell that is miles.

OK, we’re doing well, my pace is good, my time is fine, my legs are still there, it’s not raining and I just have to get to the lighthouse now. This is a meat-and-veg (or perhaps nut-roast-and-veg) run for me, it’s one of the left/right/into the sea choices that I get to make when I start each day’s run. I really like the run along the promenade, the dip by the Spanish City, and the run past Panama Dip and along past the Mini-Golf – not crazy golf, it’s not that wacky, but it’s not a full-size golf course either. After the slight incline past Panama Dip, it’s a half kilometre of flat and lovely pavement to the lighthouse, so I figure I can push the pace a bit and make up a bit of ground. It seems to work, I’m actually weaving in and out past people now, feeling like a running god or at least a slightly fitter running human. An ambulance goes past, lights and sirens, and I hope whoever its going to is OK – a little bit further there’s a chap sat by the side of the path – he looks OK, but fingers crossed.

I pass Caroline from work, who’s out cheering someone on, and Richard, who I used to work with at Newcastle – it’s all feeling pretty good and I’m tanking my way towards the finish line. As I come in, Jon cheers me on, having finished a while earlier. I cross the line and join the queue – ta-da! Thirty seconds or so pass and I remember to stop my GPS – it now shows I’ve run 10.5km, which is a little further than expected. Queue, queue, queue, number taken, pack picked up and there we go.

Hang on, there’s no medal? Hmmm. At least I’ve got the t-shirt. Oh, it’s a t-shirt, not a North Tyneside 10k t-shirt. Oh well. Not to worry – when the official time comes through, I can use that to prove I completed the race and collect the sponsorship – or Jon can vouch for me if need be.

Right, time to walk home, except J has parked up by the finish, and come to meet me – it’s lucky we bumped into each other as I’d turned my phone off at the start – a walk to the car and home via the only Sainsbury* open in order to by eggs and buns so I can indulge my craving for a fried egg sandwich. Mmmmm, recovery food.

Right, race number one done, Personal Best in place, next up is the Blaydon Race – got a song to learn for that one… 🙂

Stats:

Time: 58:44
Distance: 6.52 miles
Av. Pace: 9:00/mile – and I didn’t collapse!
Climb: 144 ft – mainly up past the priory

*Other over-priced Express Supermarkets are available. Mind, it’s in Sainsburys that I heard one chap complain about the inflated prices – the lady working there won my admiration with her response “you have to pay for convenience you know”. Brilliant.